What kind of company processes payroll and credit card and check payments, and offers banking services and account aggregation? Increasingly, the answer is an accounting software company.
No financial software company offers all these services, but the players are increasingly dealing in money in order to make money, not just pushing business applications.Intuit has the most complete set of funds services with its recent acquisition of Digital Insight, which provides online banking services that banks offer their customers. It also has a fast-growing payroll and payment-processing segment.
Sage Software, however, is not far behind, having snagged an American merchant services company, Verus, and a British one, Protx, in 2006. It also has a growing payroll business, and when I suggested that Sage would probably buy a bank, a well-known consultant responded with "I think it's almost guaranteed." Microsoft isn't in this race -- continuing to sell its technology stack -- but if the new model proves viable, there is no shortage of cash to put the Redmond, Wash.-based giant into the thick of things.
There's probably an accepted term for companies that bring all these services together, but I refer to the process as "integrated funds flow management." This process funnels funds from the point of purchase, all the way into the back-office accounting systems and allocating dollars to the proper taxing authorities and employee bank accounts, all with a minimum of human intervention.
The convergence suggests some likely developments, including the probability that point-of-sale software becomes inseparable from the payment processing tools. And if you are looking at data aggregation (and account verification) as Intuit said it was in an ad on Monster.com last year, then the ability to integrate tax preparation and financial planning services follows logically. And I suppose, why couldn't a company that offers tax software also offer its own refund loans? The possibilities are many.
Since banks can offers these things, is there any reason that one genre of company wins? I vote for the software companies because I believe they have a customer-service culture that many banks lack -- tech support and maintenance -- and they have the ability to develop the data infrastructure themselves. You can say, "But banks deal with the public." However, my personal experience suggests that banks aren't the most customer-friendly places around. But maybe that's just me.
Of course, it's also possible a bank could buy one of the software companies. But I see the software people as being more fleet of mind and foot.
And they can chase down a buck as quickly as anybody.
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